Amnesty for Illegals Doesn't Win Hispanic Votes

One of the lessons from this election is the destruction of the myth that Republicans who support amnesty for illegal aliens would do well among Hispanic voters.

No presidential candidate worked harder on illegal immigration amnesty than John McCain. In 2005, he sponsored an amnesty bill that became known as the McCain-Kennedy bill (co-sponsored by Sen. Kennedy). When that bill failed, he tried again the following year, with a variant of the McCain-Kennedy bill. That bill also failed. Unfazed, he tried yet again in 2007. If any one of those bills had passed, at least 10 million illegal aliens would have received amnesty.

In contrast, Sen. Barack Obama, though a supporter of amnesty, never authored a single major immigration bill. Yet, on Election Day, McCain, the Republican who had persevered on amnesty, was overwhelmingly rejected by Hispanic voters.

According to exit polls, 67 percent of Hispanic voters rejected McCain. Only 31 percent voted for him (the remaining 2 percent voted for a third candidate). The fact that more than two-thirds of Hispanic voters turned their backs on the Republican who had tried so hard to legalize millions of their fellow Hispanics disproves comprehensively the idea that Hispanic votes could be purchased at the price of amnesty.

Delving into the exit-poll statistics reveals how pervasive the Hispanic rejection of McCain was. Start with Hispanics aged 65 and over. This demographic is significant because not only are they in Sen. McCain’s age group, but also many of them undoubtedly saw that his immigration bills would help today’s Hispanic newcomers overcome the struggles that they first experienced years ago when they arrived here. 68 percent of them voted for Sen. Obama.

As a naturalized American who vehemently opposes amnesty for illegal aliens, I am also a conservative, and I am amazed by the sheer naivete of some Republicans who think Republican-sponsored amnesties are the way to endear Hispanics to the Republican party. These Republicans tend to dismiss their critics as arguing from anecdotal evidence.

But the evidence is hardly anecdotal — and hardly confined to this election. The largest amnesty in history was the 1986 amnesty, which legalized 3 million illegal aliens, most of whom were Hispanic. The first presidential election in which they were eligible to vote was in 1996. The Republican candidate that year was Bob Dole — the man who had been majority leader in the Senate in 1986 and helped pass the amnesty. The chief author of that amnesty was also a Republican, Sen. Alan Simpson. And that amnesty was signed into law by another Republican — President Reagan. So, you would think there was resounding Hispanic support and gratitude for the Republican candidate in 1996. Wrong. Only 21 percent of Hispanics voted for the Republican.

Some Republicans make a big deal of President Bush’s receiving 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. But that also meant that 60 percent of Hispanics rejected him.

In fact, considering that Bush got only 34 percent of Hispanic votes in 2000, the 40 percent in 2004 came largely because he proposed a massive amnesty earlier that year and continued to pander to Hispanics. Nevertheless, even his massive pandering campaign was not enough to pull most Hispanic votes away from Democrats.

In this election, 74 percent of the voters were white, 13 percent were black, 9 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian, etc. To put it bluntly, given such a vast majority of white voters, you have to wonder why ethnic pandering would be needed at all for Republicans to win elections. What the Republicans need is a return to the conservative values that brought many victories in the past. Republicans could once again attract a resounding majority consisting of white voters and self-reliant nonwhites by loudly propounding economic and social policies that favor middle-class financial security and prosperity. But supporting liberal immigration policies is not the way. There is simply no evidence that liberal immigration policies ever made middle-class voters feel secure and prosperous.